Acacias and the inevitability of aguardiente

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt during my time in Colombia, it’s that sometimes aguardiente is simply unavoidable. Occasionally you can get away with excuses such as “I’ve got to be up early tomorrow” “I’m on medication and can’t drink” or by desperately shouting “NO.” However, aguardiente is more than just a drink (and Colombia’s national drink at that – which alone is enough to make people delight in forcing it upon helpless foreigners). Aguardiente, or “guaro” as it is affectionately referred to by some, is a unifier, enjoying equal popularity among the rich and the poor, the old and the young in every corner of this humongous country. Unlike drinking in the UK, in which people usually buy and consume their own alcohol, aguardiente is very much a group event and is shared out among friends, family and often just random strangers who happen to be nearby… Similarly, there is no single drink in the UK that is so universally liked and representative of the nation as aguardiente is of Colombia. More than anything, drinking it is almost a source of national pride and celebration of Colombia and that joyful, happy-go-lucky Colombian spirit. Aguardiente Antioqueña proudly brands itself as “the best of Colombia for the world” …

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The word aguardiente comes from Latin and means hot water, or fire water. I can confirm that the drink itself very much embodies this name. It is made of distilled sugar cane molasses, anise and water. As opposed to being sweet, as one might foolishly imagine, it is overly reminiscent of sambuca, hence my problem. You can put it in coffee, aguapanela, and many other things, however it is most commonly consumed in shot form, washed down with several (desperate) gulps of water.

There are many things that I’ve grown to love during my stay in Colombia that at first seemed odd beyond belief. These include the bocadillo and cheese combo, aguapanela (aka sugar water) and arepas (yes, even arepas), however I am afraid that aguardiente is NOT one of them, nor is it ever likely to become one. Nowhere have I learnt this truth quite so painfully as in Acacias, Meta…

As usual, this blog is a tad late, so we’re going to back-track to the end of March… After my Easter holiday plans decided to unplan themselves, Fayida and I took a spontaneous trip to Acacias, in the Meta department, with my housemate Silvana who has family there.

Acacias is a beautiful little town a 3-4 hour bus journey south-west of Bogota and is part of the Llanos Orientales. It is a quaint, tranquil and ridiculously hot kind of place with unbelieveably green and vibrant countryside and a sky that seems to stretch on forever. Due to the incredible heat our day-time activities consisted of lazying around and going for a dip in the nearby river. However, in the evenings we went to the park in the centre of the town and spent a happy few hours wandering around, people watching and sampling one of the weirdest fruit salads I’ve ever encountered. It’s called a cholao and is made of about 50 ingredients (I’m not joking, the process of assembling it took about 5 minutes). It typically consists of crushed ice, many different flavoured syrups, lots of different fruit (papaya, banana, passion fruit, apple, mango, lulo, guanabana), ice-cream, condensed milk, cheese, hot chocolate powder, chocolate sauce, a wafer and probably many other things. Really makes you think to yourself, “how on earth did they come up with this?”

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The most typical food from the area is called Mamona (essentially grilled veal). I can’t comment on it as I did not try it, which everyone I have spoken to since seemed fairly scandalised by. The most typical music is Joropo, which involves a harp and an incredibly complicated dance, as you can see below.

As the title suggests, the most memorable (or not, as it happens) part of my stay in Acacias was sampling aguardiente llanero. I have a sneaking suspicion that this particular type of aguardiente is much stronger than the regular one. We proceeded to drink it in true Colombian fashion, seated around a table in a little bar with a shot glass each. Unfortunately for me, said shots were poured at a alarming pace and after muddling my way through several salsa songs it was safe to say I’d had more than my fair share. My night ended with rather exhilarating motorbike journey back to Silvana’s house in the early hours. Unfortunately the following day was not nearly so enjoyable.

And the moral of the story is… avoid aguardiente at all costs.

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Beautiful Acacias!

 

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